A mosque is supposed to be a spiritual retreat – a community centre which encourages spiritual growth and makes people feel welcomed. You could think of it as a gym, except that it’s for the soul and not the physical body. Yet, unfortunately, mosques have lost their appeal. I think this is largely due to the fact that they tend to be male-dominated with a strict dress code focusing on very minute details of how to worship God. Inhospitable to women and non-Muslims, most people have stopped going to the mosques altogether.
What would I do if I was in charge of a mosque?
• Instead of stocking Arabic Qurans only, I would include translations. Muslims who do not understand Arabic stand in prayer not having the slightest idea about what the Imam is reciting. Tell me, what is the point? Salat means to connect with God. If you have no idea about what is being recited from God’s message, how can you connect with Him? Salat is a practice initiated to review the commandments of God, so that we keep ourselves aligned with them. A renewal of what we profess to believe in; to act as a constant reminder. Hence, before starting prayer, the Imam would announce what he would be reciting, so that the people could open up the relevant passage in the translations. While he recites in Arabic, they would read it in a language they understand. This would not only educate them about the Quran, but it would also fulfill the purpose of Salat – to connect and strengthen their relationship with God.
• Every Friday, Muslims go to pray the Jummah – even those that usually don’t pray. So, you have a great platform in the form of Friday prayers to educate people about the contents of the Quran. The Khutbah (sermon) does not even come close to this. Often, it is in Arabic, so people have no idea what is being said. Even if it is in their language, the substance is usually worthless. Hence, what I would do is I would choose a certain topic – say, modesty. Compile the relevant verses on it, and then give a sermon based on this. Not only would this clear a lot of misconceptions, it would also attract a loyal following of Muslims and non-Muslims who actually want to know about the Islam proposed by the Quran!
• Apart from these two fundamental changes, I would set up sessions where people would come together to discuss their interpretations of the Quran. In addition, they could also talk about relevant issues that need to be addressed in their community and elsewhere. So, it’s not all a preach preach preach sort of thing, it would also encourage people to share their own views. This would teach people tolerance. That, it’s never “my way or the highway”. This practice is crucial to being broad-minded and is bound to reduce zealots and religious extremism.
• Lastly, I would try to keep the environment of the mosque friendly. No one would be harassed based on their clothing, ideas, or gender. Yes, gender! The mosque would welcome both men and women. Women would not be considered inferiors, and would be encouraged to actively participate in all the activities. To facilitate children, the mosque would have a play area where they could play under the supervision of a nanny while their parents perform their duties. It is ironic how Islam liberates women, but certain Muslims want to keep them caged in homes.
So, there we have it: A mosque that is actually beneficial to the society. A mosque not built on sectarianism, but to promote unity. You could say that it’s wishful thinking, but all actions stem from thought.
The main problem with Muslims today is a lack of education and miseducation about the Quran. This allows “Imams” to cash in on their ignorance. Hence, you have so many sects all claiming to have the “true and right version of Islam”. Since Muslims are oblivious to the message of the Quran, they find it easier to blindly follow whichever sect or ideology they are “born in”. Once Muslims are exposed to the Quran like how I propose the Mosque would, they would automatically disassociate themselves from dogmatic ideologies. Of course, not all would. But it would be a step in the right direction. A step we so desperately need!